MARY READY: Random reminiscences of the way we were
It’s tempting to compose another one of my whiney diatribes about what’s become of Destin in the 40 years I’ve lived here. I make no apologies for being an old dinosaur living among the new generation of Destinites. But I’ll try to keep this piece sentimental and not temperamental or judgmental.
A Barbra Streisand song goes: “Memories light the corners of my mind; misty, water colored memories of the way we were.”
Yeah, kind of syrupy, but at my age nostalgia takes on an enhanced meaning when I think of people and places that are no more.
Specifically, and by example, I miss the old Leonard Destin house, the Hawaiki, the eyes of Dr. Fregger, the Blue Room, and the Green Knight. There are other vanished local landmarks in this category, but these are a few of my favorite things.
Kind of like Julie Andrews sang of raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens.
Sooo,when the dog bites, when the bee stings, when I'm feeling sad, I simply remember my favorite things, and then I don't feel so bad. (I’m bursting into song as I write this.)
I used to drive by, walk by, and bicycle by the 150-year-old home on Calhoun and let my mind imagine the varied stories its walls could tell. I would go back in time and envision events in the march of history through that property. Now, it’s a vacant lot, awaiting a future more in keeping with the here and now.
As Dewey Destin said in a recent newspaper interview, “You can’t stop the future from unfolding.”
The revolving restaurant Hawaiki was my first “elegant” dining experience. The food was wonderful, and the gently rotating view of the emerald Gulf waters was simply breathtaking. I only went twice. If I’d known its future held destruction, I might have gone more often and cherished the one-of-a kind experience.
But it was the '70s and a classy evening out was rare, what with kids, school, work, and a tight budget.
When Frank and I did have a special evening, it was usually at the Green Knight Restaurant or the Blue Room. Safeguarded by its huge lime-green sentinel, the Green Knight was a place to enjoy good food and the lively music of Phil Calhoun’s Trashy White Band (Hmmm, I imagine the band’s name is now politically incorrect.) Beyond the gaze of the visored knight, there was little to see to the east, just miles of old Florida scrub oaks and a few scattered beach cottages, all the way to Panama City.
For 1970's and 1980's residents of both Destin and Fort Walton Beach, the thing to do when out-of-town company visited was to take them out to dinner at the Blue Room. It was the epitome of local color atmosphere and authentic seafood dining. It’s now an orange building that specializes in pizza.
Returning at day’s end from teaching at Choctawhatchee in the 1980s, I looked for the giant sign at the bottom of the Destin Bridge. It was the eyes of optometrist Dr. Fregger looking out over the harbor and the western part of Destin. The sign marked my turn onto Sibert as I drove toward my home on Kelly.
I really miss that landmark because, as an English teacher, it recalled "The Great Gatsby’s" omnipotent eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleburg, a former oculist and optometrist whose faded billboard gazes down on the so-called "valley of ashes" that exists between the ritzy Eggs East, where the old money resides, and the West, where the nouveau riche, but socially inferior Jay Gatsby throws his wild parties.
At the time, we were just becoming two Destins, East and West. Now, it’s a fait accompli.
Most of all, I miss Destin citizens who have gone on to an even lovelier Paradise than we have here. I miss the Destin Log columns of Tinkie True and Karen McGrogin. I miss everybody’s “Aunt” Gloria Brady Jones. I miss Jimmy Vaughn, one of the nicest and busiest fellows I’ve ever known. I miss worshipping with James Anderson, a man who gave devoted service to First Baptist Church. I miss stopping by Captain Salty’s house off Sibert and chatting with him. I miss Big Jimmy Shirah, Joe Taylor, Charlie Martin, Howard Marler, Bruce “Pappy” Marler, Chubby and Pat Destin, Bob Green, Monte Pate, and Bob Walters.
Please don’t be angry with me if I left off someone dear to you. I’ve listed here the ones I was privileged to know or Frank was honored to be in their company as a brother fisherman.
Let me know of someone or some place you miss, and I’ll tuck it away for a future column.
But, for now, enough of the misty, water colored memories and back to the future.
Mary Ready of Destin is a twice-retired English teacher and long-time area resident. Her columns are published on Saturdays.